Sea Camp on Little Cayman brings out the fun in science

Campers Radley Walter, Antoine Minzett, Gavin Hoeckel, Margaret Glaser, Saxon Feldman, Hunter Roulstone, Carlynn Diersing, Noelle Gal, Michael Frey and James Priaulx head out on the water.

Fun, sun, sand and science all came together for a memorable experience for young people who attended the Edmund and Virginia Ball Foundation Caribbean Marine Ecology Camp.

The camp at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s Little Cayman Research Centre hosted 23 students in two groups over two one-week sessions in July.

During the sessions, campers were split into teams with a series of challenges throughout the week. The challenges included building remotely operated underwater vehicles, known as ROVs, lionfish cook-offs, scavenger hunts and class discussions.

“This summer we had students from Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and the USA, and the campers stayed at Sunset Cove located on the South Sound, Little Cayman, with views of Owen Island,” said Central Caribbean Marine Institute education program manager Tom Sparke.

“Students from the Cayman Islands all received an Edmund and Virginia Ball Foundation scholarship, reducing the cost of the camp by 70 percent,” he said, adding that while the camp’s focus is educational, there are no credits for attending.

“The aim is to get kids passionate about the ocean, to inspire some to seek careers in marine biology or simply take steps in their daily lives to reduce their impact on the marine environment,” said Mr. Sparke.

“We did, though, have one student, James Priaulx, who attended as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.”

James Priaulx and Carlynn Diersing during the lionfish workshop.
James Priaulx and Carlynn Diersing during the lionfish workshop.

Each week featured a full schedule of marine and land-based activities. Students took part in coral and fish identification, and learned about such topics as herbivory on the reef, ecotourism, and bioluminescence.


The students went on eight dives, which included dives off the wall, as well as dives where the students spent time identifying coral and fish without camp instructors, and observing the behavior of fish.

“We also did a night dive where students used UV torches to see biofluorescence of corals, which was a real highlight,” said Mr. Sparke.

“During the islandwide scavenger hunt, teams split into different vans and raced around the island looking for cryptic clues,” he said.

“The final location was Owen Island with the teams swimming to victory.”

The ROV activity also proved to be a big hit with campers, who built Sea Perch remotely operated vehicles using kits that included motors, remotes and pipes.

“They then tested them off the dock and took part in a search and recovery mission looking for painted conch shells,” said Mr. Sparke.

“The best design was the ROV with the motors oriented inwards, which gave the ROV an incredibly tight turning circle.”

The campers also took part in a Lionfish Criminal Fish Investigation workshop that ended with a unique culinary twist. The campers first each dissected a lionfish and looked inside their stomachs for prey. They also identified fish scales underneath a microscope.

“The dissected lionfish were then filleted, and we had a big cook-off with each team cooking a different dish with lionfish,” said Mr. Sparke.

The campers also got to express their artistic creativity. After they learned about the Nassau grouper, they created a claymation movie about Nassau grouper spawning.

“Students learned about mangrove biology and the ecosystem services they provide, such as protection from storms, and how they act as a nursery for reef fish,” added Mr. Sparke. “This was conducted on kayaks in the sound.”

The week began and ended with traditional summer camp fare with a campfire on the beach under the stars, team games and roasting marshmallows over the fire.

“Nearly all of the students who attended want to come back next year,” said Mr. Sparke.

“Next year, we plan to create an advanced sea camp for returning students, to build upon what they learned this year.”